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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 40


  He had begun to feel something on the last few floors, but it wasn’t what he had expected or wanted. It was the vague feeling of someone’s presence that reminded him of the notorious fear of the tunnels. Although all of the levels they had visited seemed completely abandoned, and there were no signs here of librarians or other creatures, he nevertheless kept wanting to turn around and he had this crazy feeling that someone was attentively observing them through the bookshelves.

  Daniel tapped him on the shoulder and directed the flashlight at his boot. A long lace, which the Brahmin wasn’t too good at tying, dragged behind him on the floor.

  ‘While I tie this, you go on ahead and take a look. Maybe you’ll hear something, after all,’ he whispered and squatted down.

  Artyom nodded and proceeded to move ahead slowly, step by step, looking back at Daniel every second. Daniel was having a difficult time; it wasn’t easy to tie a slippery lace while wearing thick gloves. Moving forward, Artyom first shone a light down the endless row of shelves to his right, then sharply threw his beam to the left, trying to catch sight of crooked grey shadows of librarians in the rows of dusty and age-warped books. Having moved about thirty metres ahead of his partner, Artyom suddenly distinctly heard a rustling two rows ahead of him. His rifle was already at hand, so he pressed his flashlight against the barrel and with one bound was at the corridor where he reckoned someone was hiding.

  He saw two rows of shelves, crammed to the top with volumes, receding into the distance. Emptiness. The beam darted to the left; maybe the enemy was hiding there, in the opposite direction. Emptiness.

  Artyom held his breath, attempting to attentively distinguish the slightest noise. There was nothing; only the illusory murmuring of pages. He returned to the passageway and threw his beam to where Daniel was struggling with his bootlace. It was empty. Empty?

  Not looking where he was going, Artyom rushed back. The spot of light from his flashlight jumped frantically from side to side, illuminating row after row of identical shelves in the darkness. Where had he stopped? Thirty metres . . . About thirty metres, he should be here . . . But there’s nobody. Where could he have gone without first telling Artyom? If he had been attacked, why hadn’t he resisted? What happened? What could have happened to him?

  No, he had already gone back too far. Daniel should have been a lot closer . . . But he wasn’t anywhere! Artyom felt he was losing control of his actions, and that he was starting to panic. Stopping at the same place where he had left Daniel to tie his bootlace, Artyom leaned his back limply against the end of a shelf. Suddenly, from the depths of the bookshelf row he heard a quiet inhuman voice that broke off into a eerie squawk:

  ‘Artyom . . .’

  Suffocating from fear and almost unable to see anything through his fogged gas mask, Artyom turned abruptly towards the voice, and, attempting to keep the corridor in his rifle’s unsteady sights, he moved forward.

  ‘Artyom . . .’

  The voice was just around the corner! Suddenly, a thin fan of light cut through a shelf, leaking between some loosely shelved books at floor level. The beams moved back and forth, as if someone was repeatedly waving a flashlight left and right . . . Artyom heard the jangling of metal.

  ‘Artyom . . .’ It was barely discernible, but this time it was a familiar whisper, and there was no doubt the voice belonged to Daniel.

  Artyom cheerfully took a broad step forward, hoping to see his partner, whereupon the same eerie guttural squawk he had heard initially split the air not more than two paces away. The flashlight beam continued to pointlessly rove over the floor, back and forth.

  ‘Artyom . . .’ The strange voice repeated the call.

  Artyom took another step, glanced to the right and felt the hair on his head stand on end.

  The row of shelves ended here, forming a niche, and Daniel sat on its floor in a pool of blood. His helmet and gas mask had been torn off and were lying on the floor some distance away. Though his face was as pale as that of a corpse, his open eyes were conscious and his lips attempted to form words. Behind him, half merged into the gloom, there hid a humped, grey figure. A long, bony hand, covered with bristly silver fur - and not a paw, but a real hand with powerful, incurved claws - was pensively rolling the flashlight that had dropped to the floor and now lay a half metre from Daniel. The other hand was buried in the ripped-open belly of the Brahmin.

  ‘You’re here,’ whispered Daniel.

  ‘You’re here . . . ,’ rasped the voice behind Daniel’s back, with exactly the same intonation.

  ‘A librarian . . . Behind me. I’m dead anyway. Shoot. Kill him,’ Daniel said in a weakening voice.

  ‘Shoot. Kill him,’ repeated the shadow.

  The flashlight once again deliberately rolled on the floor to the left, only to return to its starting point to repeat the cycle yet again. Artyom felt he was losing his mind. Melnik’s words, about how the sound of gunshots could attract the nightmarish monsters, churned in his head.

  ‘Go away,’ he said to the librarian, not expecting, however, that he would be understood.

  ‘Go away,’ came the almost-affectionate reply, but the clawed hand continued to search for something in Daniel’s stomach, causing Daniel to groan quietly, while a drop of blood drew a thick line from the corner of his mouth to his chin.

  ‘Shoot!’ said Daniel, louder, having gathered some strength.

  ‘Shoot!’ demanded the librarian from behind his back.

  Should he shoot his new friend himself and, in doing so, attract other creatures, or should he leave Daniel to die here and run, while there was still time? By now, it was doubtful Daniel could be saved; with his ripped-open belly and eviscerated entrails, the Brahmin had less than an hour left.

  A pointed grey ear appeared from behind Daniel’s tipped-back head, followed by a huge green eye that sparkled in the flashlight’s bean. The librarian slowly looked out from behind his dying partner, almost shyly, and his eyes sought Artyom’s. Don’t turn away. Look right there, right at him, right in his pupils . . . The pupils were vertical; those of an animal. And how strange it was to see vestiges of intelligence in these sinister, impossible eyes!

  Now, up close, the librarian in no way resembled a gorilla, or even a monkey. His predatory face was overgrown with fur. The mouth was full of long fangs and reached almost from ear to ear, while the eyes were of such a size that they made the monster unlike any animal Artyom had ever seen, either in real life or in pictures.

  It seemed to him that this went on for a very long time. Having plunged into the creature’s gaze, he could no longer tear himself away from those pupils. Only when Daniel emitted a deep, lingering groan did Artyom snap out of it. He placed the tiny red dot of his sight directly on the unkempt grey fur of the librarian’s low forehead and thumbed the selector of his rifle to semi-automatic fire. Upon hearing the soft metallic click, the monster spluttered angrily and again hid behind Daniel’s back.

  ‘Go away . . . ,’ it said suddenly from behind Artyom’s back, mimicking Artyom’s intonation perfectly.

  Artyom woozily stopped in his tracks. This time, the librarian hadn’t just echoed his words, it was as if he had remembered them and understood their meaning. Could this be?

  ‘Artyom . . . While I can still speak . . .’ Daniel started to speak, having gathered his strength and attempting to focus his gaze, which grew cloudier with every minute. ‘In my breast pocket . . . an envelope . . . I was told to give it to you if you found the Book . . .’

  ‘But I didn’t find anything,’ Artyom shook his head.

  ‘Didn’t find anything,’ echoed the eerie voice behind Daniel’s back.

  ‘It doesn’t matter . . . I know why you agreed to do this. It wasn’t for you . . . Maybe it’ll help you. It doesn’t matter to me if I obeyed the order or not . . . Just remember this, you can’t go back to Polis . . . If they find out you came up empty-handed . . . And if the military finds out . . . Go through other stations. Now shoot, because it really
hurts . . . I don’t want . . .’

  ‘Don’t want . . . hurts . . .’ mixing the words, the librarian repeated, hissing, and his arm made a sudden movement in Daniel’s ripped stomach, which caused the latter to jerk convulsively and cry out with all his might.

  Artyom could not take any more. Throwing caution to the wind, he thumbed his rifle back to automatic and, pursing his lips, pulled the trigger, stitching bullets into his partner and the beast that hid behind his body. The unexpectedly loud noise tore the silence of the Library into ribbons. Shrill chirring sounds followed, stopping suddenly, all at the same time. The dusty books absorbed their echo like a sponge. When Artyom next opened his eyes, it was finished.

  Approaching the librarian, which had dropped its bullet-riddled head onto the shoulder of its victim and even in death still hid shyly behind him, Artyom lit up the eerie picture and felt his blood cooling in his veins, while his palms perspired from tension. Then he fastidiously poked the librarian with the toe of his boot and its body fell back, heavily. It was dead, there could be no doubt.

  Trying not to look at the bloody mess that had been Daniel’s face, Artyom started to slowly undo the zipper of the dead man’s protective suit. The clothing had quickly become soaked in thick, black blood, and a transparent vapour rose from it into the cool air of the stack archive. Artyom started to feel nauseated. The breast pocket . . . The fingers inside his protective gloves awkwardly tried to undo the button, and it occurred to him that such gloves might have delayed Daniel for the minute that cost him his life.

  A rustling could distinctly be heard in the distance, followed by the patter of barefoot steps along the corridor. Artyom twisted around nervously, and ran the flashlight beam over the passageways. Having assured himself that he was alone for the moment, he continued to struggle with the button. The button finally yielded and his stiff fingers managed to remove a thin grey envelope from deep inside the pocket. The envelope was inside a polyethylene bag that had a bullet hole in it.

  In addition, Artyom found a bloodstained pasteboard rectangle in the pocket, undoubtedly the card Daniel had taken out of the card catalogue drawer in the vestibule. The card read: ‘Shnurkov, N. E., Irrigation and the prospects for agriculture in the Tadzhik SSR. Dushanbe, 1965.’

  Pattering and indistinct muttering could now be heard a very short distance away. There was no time left. Collecting Daniel’s rifle and flashlight, which had fallen out of the librarian’s claws, Artyom took off and ran back the way he came as fast as he could, almost not seeing where he was going, past the endless rows of bookshelves. He didn’t know for sure if he was being followed, as the noise of his boots and the pounding of blood in his ears prevented him from hearing any sounds behind him.

  As soon as he jumped into the stairwell and began to tumble down the concrete steps, he realized that he didn’t even know on what floor the entrance they had used to enter the archives was located. He could, of course, go down to the first floor, knock out the stairwell glass, and jump out into the courtyard . . . He stopped for a second and looked outside.

  Exactly in the centre of the courtyard, with their faces pointed up, several grey creatures stood motionless, looking at the windows, and - it seemed - directly at him. Petrified, Artyom pressed himself against a side wall and resumed his descent, treading softly. Now that he had stopped tramping his boots down the stairs, he could hear the patter of bare feet, which got louder and louder. Then, having completely lost control of himself, he resumed a headlong rush down the stairs.

  Jumping out at the next level so as to fitfully look around in search of a familiar door, not finding it and then flinging himself onward, stopping and squeezing into dark corners when it seemed he could hear steps nearby, desperately looking around in dead-end passages and crawlways and again entering the stairs to go down one more floor or go up two more levels - perhaps he overlooked something? - understanding that the infernal noise with which he was desperately trying to find an exit from this labyrinth would attract every monstrous inhabitant of the Library but unable to calm himself down, Artyom pointlessly and unsuccessfully tried to find the exit. That is, until he made out a familiar, half-bent silhouette against the background of a knocked-out window as he was about to enter the stairwell again. Artyom moved back, dived into the first passage that presented itself, pressed his back to the wall, pointed his rifle at the opening from where he reckoned the librarian had to appear, and held his breath . . .

  Silence.

  The brute either decided not to pursue Artyom alone, or was waiting for Artyom to blunder and come out of hiding. He didn’t have to go back the same way, though. The passage led onward. Thinking hard for a second, Artyom began to step backward from the opening, keeping his sight trained on it.

  The corridor turned to the side, but at that very place the turn began, there was a black hole in the wall. The area was strewn with shards of brick and sprinkled with lime. Obeying an impulse, Artyom stepped through the hole, into a room full of broken furniture. Pieces of photographic and movie film were scattered over the floor. A slightly open door could be seen ahead, from behind which a narrow wedge of pale moonlight fell onto the floor. Stepping carefully on the treacherously creaky parquet, Artyom reached the door and looked out.

  He recognized the room, although now he was at its opposite end. The imposing statue of the person reading, the incredible height of the ceiling and the gigantic windows, the path which led to the grotesque wooden portal of the exit, as well as the disturbed rows of reading tables along the sides: without a doubt, he was in the Main Reading Room. He stood on the enclosed wooden balustrade of the narrow gallery that girdled the hall at a height of four metres. It was from this gallery that the librarians came down at them. He had no idea how he had managed to get here from the stack archives, not to mention from the other side, bypassing the route he and Daniel had travelled to get there. But there was no time to reflect. The librarians could be hard on his heels.

  Artyom ran down one of the two symmetrical stairs that led to the pedestal of the monument, and sprang to the doors. Not far from the carved wooden arch of the exit, several deformed bodies of librarians lay spread-eagled on the floor, and as he passed by where the battle had taken place, Artyom almost fell after losing his footing in a pool of thickening blood.

  The heavy door was opened unwillingly, and a bright white light blinded him at once. Recalling Melnik’s instructions, Artyom gripped his flashlight in his right hand and hastily described a triple circle, giving the sign that he was approaching with peaceful intentions. The dazzling beam immediately went to the side and Artyom, having thrown his machine gun behind his back, slowly moved forward into a round room with columns and a couch, still not knowing who was coming to meet him.

  A light machine gun stood on its tripod on the floor, and Melnik was leaning over his partner. Ten was reclining with his eyes closed on the couch, making short moaning sounds from time to time. His right leg was twisted unnaturally, and, having seen him, Artyom understood that it was broken at the knee and bent, not forward, but backward. He could not imagine how such a thing might occur and what strength the one who had been able to so mutilate the stalwart tracker must have possessed.

  ‘Where’s your comrade?’ Melnik tossed the question at Artyom, turning away from Ten for a second.

  ‘The librarians . . . in the depository. They attacked,’ Artyom tried to explain. For some reason he didn’t want to say that he had killed Daniel himself, out of mercy.

  ‘Did you find the Book?’ the tracker asked just as abruptly.

  ‘No,’ Artyom shook his head, ‘I didn’t hear anything there and I didn’t feel anything.’

  ‘Give me a hand lifting him up . . . No, better take his rucksack, and mine, too. See what his leg looks like . . .’ They nearly tore it off. ‘Now he can only be carried piggy-back,’ Melnik nodded at Ten.

  Artyom gathered all the equipment, three rucksacks, two machine guns and the light machine gun, about thirty kilos of
weight in all, and it wasn’t easy lifting it. It was even more difficult for Melnik, shouldering the limp body of his partner with some difficulty, and even the short trip down the staircase - toward the exit - took them several long minutes.

  They could no longer see any librarians all the way to the doors, but when Artyom flung open the heavy wooden doors, letting through the groaning tracker, a squawking howl was heard from the darkest bowels of the building, full of hatred and anguish. Artyom felt shivers running through him again and he hurried to shut the door. Now the main thing was to reach the metro as soon as possible.

  ‘Lower your eyes!’ Melnik ordered when they were on the street.

  ‘The star will be right in front of you now. Don’t even think of looking over the roofs . . .’

  Barely moving his stiffening legs, Artyom obediently stared at the ground, dreaming only of overcoming those inconceivably sprawling two hundred metres from the library to the descent to Borovitskaya. However, the tracker wouldn’t allow Artyom to enter the metro.

  ‘It’s impossible to go to the police now. You don’t have the Book, and you lost their guide,’ Melnik pronounced, gently lowering his wounded comrade to the ground and breathing heavily. ‘The Brahmins would hardly like it. And, mainly, this means that you are not the chosen one and they have entrusted their secrets to you. You’d disappear without a trace if you returned to the police. They have specialists there, regardless whether they are intelligent or not. And even I won’t be able to protect you. Now you have to leave. It’s best you go to Smolenskaya. Go straight through, there are few houses, and there’s no need to go deep into any alleys. Maybe you’ll get there. If you hurry, before sunrise.’